The Chase for Dockers: Silas Chou Said Eyeing Levi’s Casualwear Brand

The Chou family — the Hong Kong investors who helped revive Tommy Hilfiger in the 1990s — is said to be considering an acquisition of Dockers.

NEW YORK — The Chou family, the Hong Kong investors who helped revive Tommy Hilfiger in the Nineties, is said to be considering an acquisition of Dockers, according to sources in the financial community.

Silas K.F. Chou, who also has investment stakes in Michael Kors (USA) Inc., British luxury brands Asprey and Garrard and the Hong Kong-based manufacturer Novel Denim Holdings, was traveling and unavailable for comment Friday, according to a Novel official.

Levi Strauss & Co. put the $1 billion Dockers brand on the block in May, hiring Citigroup Inc. to handle the sale, which would help take a hefty bite out of the $2.02 billion debt load that has become a high priority for the company after seven consecutive years of sales declines.

A Levi’s spokesman on Friday said “the process [of selling Dockers] is continuing” but that the company would have no comment until there was “something definitive.” Financial sources said they expect Dockers to sell for $600 million to $700 million.

Intense speculation has surrounded the Dockers brand since its San Francisco-based parent revealed sale plans. While Dockers’ girth limits the number of potential bidders, firms including Li & Fung Ltd., Jones Apparel Group, Liz Claiborne Inc., VF Corp. and Kellwood Co. are said to have considered the acquisition.

VF officials in recent weeks have played down their interest in Dockers, with chairman and chief executive officer Mackey McDonald saying the brand wasn’t “at the top” of the Greensboro, N.C.-based firm’s shopping list. Kellwood officials have expressed interest. A Li & Fung executive last week declined to comment on Dockers. Officials at Jones and Liz Claiborne have not commented on the rumors.

Most of Chou’s recent investment moves have been made in concert with Laurence Stroll. It could not be learned whether the pair was working together on the potential Dockers move. But the pair have played a key role in the development of many household names in the fashion business.

Most notably, in 1989 they bought the Tommy Hilfiger business from Mohan Murjani’s firm for $10 million. In the 13 years they were associated with the firm, Chou and Stroll revitalized the business, giving it a strong global image and turning it into an enterprise that last year had $1.8 billion in worldwide revenues. The pair largely cashed out their holdings in Hilfiger in 2002.
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